ESPN’s broadcast of Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA last Friday was the most-viewed WNBA regular season game on cable television in 24 years and the most-viewed WNBA opening night game on ESPN platforms in 11 years.
Friday’s broadcast peaked at 1 million viewers and had 683,000 average viewers as Griner’s Phoenix Mercury lost to the Los Angeles Sparks at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. The game’s average viewership was up 103% compared to last year’s WNBA opening night broadcast on ESPN platforms.
Ratings for the WNBA have been up, as last year’s regular season on ESPN platforms was the league’s most-watched since 2006. April’s WNBA Draft on ESPN drew 520,000 viewers, making it the most-watched WNBA Draft since 2004.
The WNBA’s broadcast deal with Disney-owned ESPN and ABC runs through the 2025 season. Friday night WNBA games are also airing this season on the Ion Television network through the WNBA’s new deal with the E.W. Scripps Company.
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert also believes appetite for watching the WNBA is benefiting from popularity at the college level after April’s LSU-Iowa NCAA Championship game on ABC scored 9.9 million viewers as the most-watched women’s college basketball game ever.
“I think we’re seeing our product being valued, coming off that strong viewership at the college level with that game on ABC,” Engelbert told Front Office Sports in an interview. “We’re different because we have a more lifestyle viewer, so when we’re on ABC, we do really well because of the nature of our fan base.”
Earlier this month, the Phoenix Mercury and Phoenix Suns had their new attempted media deal to regionally broadcast games over the air blocked by a bankruptcy judge, saying the agreement violated Phoenix’s deal with Diamond Sports Group’s Bally Sports Arizona.
“The whole media landscape is being very disrupted, and I’m watching that very carefully as we think about our next media rights deal,” Engelbert said. “I’m excited, quite frankly, to take a look at this and the way our media rights are valued.”
Amazon is also in the third year of its deal signed in 2021 to stream 16 WNBA games per year and the Commissioner’s Cup on Prime Video.
“We’re just going to continue to evaluate what’s going on with streamers, Amazon, as well as other streamers entering the live sports marketplace,” Engelbert said. “Now that people understand that Prime Video has live sports, we’re really gonna hit the ground running with marketing on both sides to get that viewership up on streaming and our linear partners as well.”